Million Dollar Arm

From BR Bullpen

Million Dollar Arm is a film based on the story of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, the first professional baseball players signed out of India. It was commercially released by Disney Pictures on May 16, 2014.

The story of the two Indian pitchers was a made-for-Hollywood story from the start, so it was not entirely surprising that it was turned into a movie. Never having played or even seen a baseball game as children, the two young men, who were cricket players and javelin throwers, coming from an impoverished background were participants in a reality show put together by an American production company in 2007, whose aim was to discover unknown baseball talent in an unlikely place. They were the winners of the contest, and even though few scouts thought they had any hope of ever making it further than a contrived television program, they were offered contracts by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008, as some members of the Pirates brass were in fact convinced that, given the two were genuine athletes and had in fact very strong arms, there was a not-impossible chance that they could make it in the world of professional baseball.

The film traces the two pitchers' incredible journey from their modest background to the competition and to their first steps in the completely alien world that is America, as the two were assigned to the Florida-based Gulf Coast League after being signed. Patel's career was short, as he was released after the 2010 season, but he was able to turn his opportunity in the pros, as well as earnings from book and movie rights to his story, into a college education, steady work as a baseball instructor, and providing a decent life for his family. When the film was released, Singh was still a member of the Pirates' organization, recovering from Tommy John surgery and still hoping to make it out of Class A ball at the age of 25. Most importantly, he was able to provide his family with a decent living.

Beyond the story of the two pitchers, however, the films centers on agent J.B. Bernstein, played by Jon Hamm, known for his television role as advertising executive Don Draper in the series Mad Men. Bernstein is the American promoter behind the reality show and the story focuses on how he uses this unlikely ploy to rescue his failing career as a sports agent, and also finds love and becomes a better man in the process. The film contrasts the difficult adaptation of Bernstein to India, and then the just-as-difficult adjustment the two pitchers, and their Indian interpreter, have to go through when they move to California. Supporting characters include Tom House (played by Bill Paxton), the unconventional pitching coach at the University of Southern California, who actually believes in the process from the start and helps to turn the raw athletes into actual ballplayers, and scout Ray Poitevint (played by Alan Arkin), who is humorously portrayed as both very knowledgeable and barely interested in the work of judging the Indian candidates' potential, preferring to nap until something interesting happens.

The film was directed by Craig Gillespie and starred two of the most recognizable young Indian actors of the day (to American audiences), Suraj Sharma (known for his lead role in Life of Pi) as Singh and Madhur Mittal (the male lead of Slumdog Millionaire) as Patel. A number of sportswriters were hired to play the role of scouts, including Tom Verducci.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Bob Nightengale: "'Million Dollar Arm' dares India to dream", USA Today, May 5, 2014. [1]

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